“What quarrel, what harshness, what unbelief in each other can subsist in the presence of a great calamity, when all the artificial vesture of our life is gone, and we are all one with each other in primitive mortal needs.”
- George Eliot
It was brutally hot in the hospital security room, hotter than Chet could remember. His uniform stuck to his armpits, and he wondered briefly if he smelled. Not that it really mattered, he thought. Who could worry about something like that at a time like this? Tall, with light green eyes highlighted in a café- au-lait face, he was reality-show handsome. He took out his pick and ran it through his sweat drenched curls, earning a dirty look from his partner, Ralph.
Overweight with his uniform pulling against his large belly, Ralph McGee was every wife’s nightmare of what happens when you drink too much beer. “Really, Chet?” he remarked sarcastically, looking up from his gray computer screen. “You’re worried how your hair looks? Sheesh.” He went back to studying the droning monitor and counted five more beds in the corridors of the hospital. “Looks like zombies attacked Long Island. It’s a war zone out there. I hear more are coming in.” Chet said grimly. The muffled wail of multiple ambulances could be heard in the distance. “I don’t believe this.” “There is no such thing as zombies,” remarked Ralph with a smirk. At least that was true. Zombies only existed in cheesy films and bad books. But these weren’t zombies. These were real. It was nature versus us, or really freaks of nature versus humanity. “I can’t see the outside camera,” continued Ralph.
The radio crackled, but the message was garbled and incomprehensible. His nail-bitten fingers pressed the communication button. “Try again,” he said to the speaker. “I can’t understand you.” He spun in his seat and pointed to a blank monitor. “Go outside, Chet, and clean off the camera.” “Are you nuts?” Chet shook his head. “That’s what we pay you the big bucks for.” Ralph pointed to the door. There was no way Chet was going outside. Instead he rolled on his squeaky chair over to the door and opened it to survey the chaos. The sounds of screams filled the small security room. An overpowering smell of rot caused Chet to gag and slam the door. “No way, man. I’m not going out there.” He rolled back to Ralph, who calmly handed him an open can of soda. Chet took a long swig, sweat beading on his face. “I ain’t seen nothing like that in my life.” “Reminds me of sandland in the nineties.” “Don’t start that, Ralphie. This ain’t Iraq and we ain’t in the army. Did you see what’s going on out there? This is America. It’s not supposed to happen here. Man, I wish I could reach my mother. I hope she’s OK.” “If she’s staying in, she’s OK.” replied Ralph. “You don’t know that. Where were all these people?” Chet pointed to the computer screens with wide eyes. “At a picnic?” The doorknob jiggled then turned, and both men swiveled to face the portal, fear written all over their faces.
No one ever came into security. Not ever. Chet and Ralph liked to call themselves the invisible men. Nobody sought them out in this sleepy hospital located in a town of a few thousand. They worked their shift, knowing everybody’s business. Every routine from doctors to maintenance people were on their radar, but none of the hospital staff really knew the security guys. Ralph held his breath. Being the only man armed he put his hand on his side holster. It had been years since he had been in the army, and he didn’t practice at the range as much as he would have liked. One time a thug menaced a nurse, and he used his loaded gun to threaten back. That was about it in the last fifteen years. Jonathan Tate, the EMT from the ambulance unit, entered security and quickly closed the door behind him. Small with narrow shoulders, he looked like an underfed cat. Not a spare ounce of fat covered his body, and his thick blond hair was stuffed into an EMT cap. He cradled a football-sized object wrapped in bloody linen in one arm. The security guards breathed a sigh of relief. “You scared the crap outta me,” said Ralph as he turned back to his monitor. “What’s that?” Chet pointed at Jonathan’s arm. “It’s crazy out there!” Jonathan ignored his question. “You got anything to drink?” Chet handed him the unfinished soda. “This is the best you can do?” asked Jonathan. “Take it or leave it. We ran out of scotch at the last happy hour,” interjected Ralph.
They watched him gulp the whole can without coming up for air, fascinated with his gullet riding up and down his neck. His uniform was stained with all kinds of dark matter and blood. Removing the blue cap from his matted hair, he wiped his weary face. “We’re dying out there. They just ran out of antibiotics. There’s no sign of any arriving for at least a week.” The lights blinked and then went off, along with everything else in the room. Green emergency lights bathed their faces for a nanosecond. They collectively froze until the groan of machinery geared up. “Generators are working,” Ralph remarked. “That’s a relief,” said Jonathan sarcastically. “Nothing else is. TV is out. Satellite stopped hours ago. You can’t get a line out if you tried. It’s Armageddon.” “I’d like to see how the insurance companies are going to cover this. You think they have a policy called insect damage?” said Chet. “Maybe in the Midwest where the crops are,” replied Jonathan. “Remember what they did to everyone after the super-storm? Insurance is a joke!” “You got some more coming in,” Ralph interrupted, pointing to the blank screen labeled “exterior.”
“We heard the sirens.” He kicked a rolling chair for the young man to sit down. “They’ve moved emergency to the lower garage level,” said Jonathan. “Only way down is through the stairwells. They sectioned off the outside completely. Ambulances can get in. That’s it. Tents are being set up. It’s a mess.” “You smell like, I don’t what you smell like…” Chet wrinkled his nose as Jonathan sat down. Jonathan looked down at his stained clothing. “I smell like shit and a whole lot more. They’re everywhere. I mean, everywhere. I think they came from Mars.” “There is no such thing as Martians,” said Ralph. He was right again. These weren’t zombies, Martians, or the yeti. These were the cicadas. An insect. An invasion that was affecting every state in the northeastern portion of the United States. A little bug was wreaking havoc on the most densely populated area of America. “What’s your visibility?” asked Jonathan, keeping track of the monitors. “Zero.” Ralph tuned back to the computer screen. “And for this evening’s festivities…” Jonathan pulled off the stained towel and revealed a digital camcorder.
Chet and Ralph stared back dumbstruck. The camera could have come from anywhere. “Needs a USB.” “Where’d you get that?” said Chet. “I swiped it out of a patrol car on the expressway.” “Are you stupid? Get rid of it.” Chet rolled back from the camera. “Someone could have seen you.” “Right,” Ralph said, snatching the camera. He started examining it. “Sissy,” he sneered at Chet. “Did you watch it yet?” “Yeah, in between my manicure and massage,” said Jonathan. “I’m stuck here as long as this hospital is up and running. Could be interesting.”
“You can’t watch that. You got to give it back to the police,” Chet interrupted. “Listen Chet,” Jonathan said sternly, “you have anything better to do? We’re stuck. They called all EMTs off the road. We can’t go anywhere until the army, the government, and the CDC start doing something about those things!” The room fell deathly silent. Both security guards knew they couldn’t leave. There was no going home, probably for a long time. There was no swimming. No baseball. No barbecues. The routine of life as they knew it was gone, and for how long, they could only guess. “The bugs are stopping all the signals. This might be the only news we’re going to get,” shouted Jonathan. “It’s our duty to watch this.” He felt trapped. For someone in the EMT field, being on the road all day was his office. Jonathan was used to helping people and he loved his new career. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he wondered if there could be a cicada problem there too. He never even remembered noticing these bugs during the summer months.
He moved to Long Island to be with his girlfriend Robin who ran a yoga studio on the south shore. They met on a retreat in Costa Rica, and he left everything to follow her and get a license in the emergency medical field. There was nothing left he could do for her now. They all had to wait this thing out. “Or we sit here...safe, for the time being and watch this stupid home video, hoping to see someone make sense outta this thing,” says Jonathan. “It feels wrong,” Chet muttered. “Maybe we’ll catch some hot housewife screwing the gardener,” said Ralph. “That’s what I’m talking about!” Jonathan laughed. Ralph and Chet both looked at Jonathan, then at each other. They knew he was right. The truth was they were really stuck. “Don’t you think you should be helping in the emergency room?” Chet pointed to the door. “According to the Department of Labor, I’m on my break,” Jonathan remarked. “You know what happens when we miss our breaks. You want Human Resources in here? Like I said, you’re gonna need a USB.” Ralph rummaged through a drawer and found the wire. He yanked one out like he was holding a snake by the neck. He put the plugs where they belonged.
A frozen image of a beautiful two-story home displayed on the monitor. This piqued their interest even further. “Press play,” Jonathan urged as the three heads moved closer to the screen. “Wait a minute.” Ralph leaned back to a maintenance cabinet and pulled out a bottle of bourbon. “I thought you said we ran out of scotch,” Chet accused him. “You didn’t ask about the bourbon.” Opening his drawer, he dug out a pack of cigarettes, offering it to each of them, while Chet poured the liquor into specimen cups. “These been used?” Jonathan asked, looking at the bottom of the cup. “Yeah, my last drug test.” Ralph poured a nice shot and took a swallow. The bourbon went down smoothly. “And smoking is illegal on hospital grounds too,” Chet offered. “Not only that, it’ll kill you,” said Ralph after a long drag. “Press ‘play,’” he ordered. Chet moved the cursor to the big arrow button on screen. He clicked play. All three watched the story unfold.
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Disclaimer The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher. Copyright © 2013 Michael Phillip Cash Published in the United States by Red Feather Publishing New York – Los Angeles – Las Vegas All rights reserved. ISBN: 1481843907 ISBN-13: 978-1481843904